This is a piece I wrote that originally appeared on the Christian Standard website this week for the lesson for April 11th. Still thinking about this whole concept of community in the church, particularly small groups.
Love Within the Community (1 John 2:7-17)
Bill Hybels said, “There is nothing like the local church when the local church is working right.” When the church is at its best, needs are met, people are cared for, and lives are changed. We see an example of this in the early days of the church: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44, 45). This serves as an excellent example of true Christian community.
And yet we seem to know very little about community in our modern culture. We drive to work alone. We put on headphones so we can exercise alone. We pull our car into the garage at the end of the day and close the door before we get out. We may go days without seeing our neighbors. We live isolated lives and experience very little community.
John writes our Scripture text to a group of believers who may, in fact, have needed reminding of what the Christian community is supposed to be: one marked by love. His ”new” command was, in fact, not new at all. Christ spoke of it when asked about the greatest command: “Love the Lord your God and love others as yourself” (see Luke 10:27).
And so John’s words are simple. We need to love one another. We need to care for one another. We need to carry one another’s burdens and help meet physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. If we love, we are in the light. But if we hate, we are in the dark.
Living in Darkness
“But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness” (1 John 2:11).
Plainly and simply, we cannot see in the darkness. We cannot see what’s in front of us or around us. In fact, when it’s completely dark we cannot even see our hand in front of our face. Darkness hides things.
Spiritual darkness is no different. As John states, when we hate, we walk in the darkness. In this state, we fail to recognize our true need for a Savior. We ignore the instructions and commands of God’s Word, and in doing so, deceive ourselves of our right relationship with God and the relationships he has given us with other believers.
In order to love, we must get out of the dark and into the light.
Living in Light
“Whoever loves his brother lives in light” (1 John 2:10).
When it is light, everything is out in the open. Everything can be seen. We show our true selves, as imperfect as we are, because we understand it’s only by God’s mercy we are saved and made right with him. We live in the light of God’s truth and grace.
John writes these words to believers, young and old—new Christians and mature Christians. Our lives and our communities are to be marked by love.
Over the years, I have been in several different small groups in the various churches I’ve served. And one thing I have noticed is a small group works best when true community takes place. The strongest and longest-lasting groups are the ones where love is freely given, grace is extended in abundance, and needs (whether spiritual, emotional, or physical) are met with compassion. This does not come easily . . . true community doesn’t happen by chance. But when it takes place, lives are changed, hearts are encouraged, and God is glorified.
Just recently, my current small group was discussing this whole idea of caring for and loving one another. It reminded us that love requires sacrifice. It requires us to go out of our way and to notice the little things in one another’s lives. It means going beyond just saying, “I’ll pray for you”—we must actually pray, and then perhaps follow it up with a phone call. It means preparing a meal during a difficult time or simply being there to listen. That is what true Christian community is all about.
Hatred has no place among true believers of Christ living in community with fellow believers. Our lives and our relationships must be marked by love. And as simple as that sounds, John’s reminder is just as relevant and needed today. In our world of lives lived in isolation, true community is absolutely necessary. What a powerful effect this could have on our world if we all truly took these words to heart.
So I’m interested…How have you experience community in your church/small group?